This Column Article Premiered in the Martinez News-Gazette on 3/29/2017 Updated 1/17/2020
Twice a year the City of Martinez holds an Alhambra Cemetery Cleanup Day where volunteers can de-weed the grounds while E. Clampus Vitus fixes headstones and provides lunch. Let’s face it, pulling weeds for four hours with the reward of lunch does not sound very enticing, but to a history buff, the Cemetery is a rewarding outdoor museum providing a voice to the residents and their stories. It was at the last clean up, when an E. Clampus Vitus volunteer noticed a piece of cement grave border sticking out from the hillside. He decided to investigate and after removing 6-8 inches of silt and dirt, (with the help of others) revealed the complete border, a blue marble headstone with inserts for two flowerpots, and the inscription, Ralph Vester Walker 1923 – 1945.
Like the excitement of finding a long lost friend, questions arose regarding Ralph’s final location and story. Was he a potter due to potentially being within Potter’s Field, (the quality of his headstone however contradicts this idea)? Is he related to Capt. Walker buried elsewhere in the cemetery? Additionally there are four main questions to answer when doing this type of research. 1) What information can you gleam from their grave marker\headstone? 2) Are there any living descendants? 3) Are they looking for the person? 4) What else can you discover about their life from various official records such as Census, Military, Birth\Death\Marriage Certificates, etc..?
We started our research by consulting the City of Martinez Alhambra Cemetery Decedent List and found, Walker, Ralph Vester, next to Co. (Potter’s Field), Plot could be blk 442, DOD 7/29/1945, Age 22, Place of birth Texas. Next by utilizing all of the above info with several genealogy websites (that contain copies of the records we mentioned above, photographs, family contacts, and more) we discovered that he is not related to Captain Walker at all, but the eighth of twelve siblings born to Bune Vester Walker and Cordelia Roxie Shumate, on December 12, 1923 in Red River Co., Texas. We also located and made contact with Jamie Lynn Barr & Casey Schauer Atterbury his Great Grand-nieces. They were very grateful to the Martinez Historical Society (MHS) and their Martinez Cemetery Committee for locating him as they had been looking for his gravesite and info to add to their respective ancestral trees.
According to emails from Jamie and Casey and the records they provided us, Ralph was quiet and very sweet. He lost his father at the age of 8 due to spleen cancer in 1930 at the start of the Great Depression. After his father’s death, his mother and 10 siblings moved into his older brother’s home in Scurry, Texas. At the age of 15 he had completed a seventh-grade education while working as a farm hand. In 1940 he, his mother and younger siblings moved to the agriculturally rich and wine producing area of Mesilla, NM. Shortly thereafter in 1942 they moved to Richmond, CA along with his older brothers Luther and Robert. Through his military records, Luther found work at the infamous Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, and though we yet to have proof, perhaps Ralph did, too.
UPDATE: At the time of this article’s writing, Jamie and Casey relayed that family members’ recall Ralph died from a motorcycle accident in Richmond, CA on July 29, 1945. He was 22 years old, separated from his wife Euvelta, and was the custodian of their daughter Dorothy. The family recollection continues that shortly after his death, Euvelta disappeared with Dorothy, taking her away from Ralph’s family.
On August 28, 2017, we were able to confirm the family information with an informational copy of Ralph's Certificate of Death. On January 14, 2020, we found an article on his death through Newspapers.com. The article, with a disturbing photo of Ralph's motorcycle and body, was published in the Oakland Tribune on July 30, 1945.
Ralph Vester Walker was killed when his motorcycle collided with a car driven by 24 year old Duane H. Horner, son of the Richmond Police Judge, Claire Horner, on 13th Street and Esmund Avenue in Richmond. Horner was booked on a technical charge of manslaughter, and then was released on his own recognizance. The time of death was 12:14am. Ralph died of a fractured skull and gross bodily injuries. A funeral was held at Wilson & Kratzer in Richmond. Ralph was buried in the Alhambra Cemetery on August 3, 1945.
At the time of his death, Ralph was a discharged U.S. Merchant Marine seaman and had been working recently in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyard. He was separated from Euvelta, who was now living in Hatch, New Mexico with their 3 year old daughter, Dorothy.
To see what happens next and the expanded story of Ralph Vester Walker, please visit our website martinezcemetery.org.
The next official Cemetery Cleanup Day is Saturday May 13th from 10 am – 2 pm. Wear comfortable clothing and bring a pair of gloves. Lunch provided by E Clampus Vitus, with Morning refreshments provided by the Potter’s Field Restoration Project for its volunteers.
Judie & Joseph Palmer are two of the founding members of the Martinez Cemetery Preservation Alliance (MCPA) and the Potter’s Field Project. Both have a passion for discovery, history, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology. For more info, please visit our website MartinezCemetery.org. Do you have a Potter’s Field story to tell? We welcome any pictures or information regarding the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery or its Potter’s Field. Please email us at email@example.com or call us at (925) 316-6069.
Judie & Joseph Palmer are two of the founding members of the Martinez Cemetery Preservation Alliance (MCPA) and the Potter’s Field Project. Both have a passion for discovery, history, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology.